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GA Tech College of Computing: skills for emerging technology

Georgia Tech is working with corporate partners to develop talent to fill the nation's computing needs. Financial and personal support helps students succeed

Georgia Tech (Atlanta, GA) established a College of Computing twenty-four years ago when the field was still new. In 1988, it was the first public university in the nation to have its own college in this discipline. The college has since grown to fill three campus buildings with almost 100 faculty members, a third of whom are women, and 1,700 students. Its three schools include computer science, interactive computing, and computational science and engineering. There are almost as many graduate students as undergrads, in seventeen degree programs.

"Compared to fields like mechanical and electrical engineering, computing is young and rapidly changing," says Cedric T. Stallworth, assistant dean for outreach, enrollment and community. "Even the definition is constantly changing. If you ask ten professors, you'll get eight different definitions."

The College of Computing is separate from the College of Engineering, which houses eight of its own engineering specialties: aerospace, biomedical, chemical and biomolecular, civil and environmental, electrical and computer, industrial and systems, materials science and mechanical engineering. Georgia Tech's engineering college is the nation's largest, Stallworth says, with almost 12,000 students enrolled in both undergraduate and graduate programs.

"Look to your left, to your right, you'll see the people who will be running the world in the next thirty years," Stallworth tells students. "At this university, we are white collar talent with a blue collar work ethic."

Computer class is mandatory
Computing gets plenty of respect at Georgia Tech. Every student is required to take at least one computer science class. Math professors can assume that entering students can do calculus and solve for x, but no such assumptions can be made in the computing field since few American K-12 schools focus on CS education, Stallworth explains.

"Our students are savvy computer users, but there's a difference between surfing the Web and getting a computer to do your bidding," Stallworth says. "We have to start with the assumption that all they can do is turn the computer on."

Reaching out to local youth
Georgia Tech is working with corporate partners to develop talent to fill the nation's computing needs. The strategic plan includes involvement with students starting in elementary school and continuing through middle school, to high school and then to Georgia Tech, where they can earn both undergrad and graduate degrees and launch into careers in industry or as entrepreneurs. NSF grants support programs that reach out to organizations like Girl Scouts, and fund summer programs, after-school and weekend camps for students and teachers.

The college's Cool Computing program brings high school students to campus for a day. After-school programs and summer camps encourage them to build their skills and be more creative. By the time students graduate from high school, Stallworth says, they are familiar with the campus, which eases the transition to college life.

"Our enrollment program goes from getting you interested to getting you in our door," he says. "We can take all those dreams you had as a young student and help you achieve them."

A community environment
The College of Computing encourages students to support each other, and underwrites many student-run organizations. Some are affinity-based and some are technical special interest groups in areas like mobile app development or Internet security. Organizations like these can help both graduate and undergrad students locate academic help, and also serve as a personal support system, Stallworth says.

"All the research says that those who have peer cohorts do better," Stallworth says. "This is the South, so we create community over food. I buy a lot of pizza. All the pizza places know me on a first name basis. If feeding a kid a meal makes them feel better and makes a friend, it's worth it."

The college regularly sends a contingent of women CS students to the Anita Borg Institute's Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing, and the department sent more than two dozen women to the 2011 event. College of Computing students also participate in the Richard Tapia Celebration of Diversity in Computing.

Emerging technology is a focus
Georgia Tech's faculty is working with corporate partners on technology that won't be available to the public for years. Stallworth compares it to shagging free throws with Michael Jordan.

Students with an entrepreneurial spirit can work through Flashpoint, the campus startup accelerator program. It provides entrepreneurial education and access to experienced mentors, experts and investors. The Flashpoint Investment Fund may even provide seed money to get projects started.

"We have an immense and talented student body, diverse both where they are from and how they view the world," Stallworth says. "We are hitting the moving target of a discipline that is constantly changing itself with programs that help develop that talent for this changing world."


College of Computing

College of Computing

Main campus: Atlanta, GA
Engineering enrollment: 1,700 (920 undergrad and 774 graduate)
Graduate & UG tech degrees offered: BS in computer science, computational media; MS in bioengineering, computational science and engineering, computer science, computer interaction, information security; PhD in algorithms, combinatorics and optimization, bioengineering, bioinformatics, computational science and engineering, computer science, human-centered computing, robotics, international programs
Ways to matriculate: Full time on campus; via distance learning for selected MS programs

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